February 1, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 17°F


Food prices found higher at college retail than off campus locations

If a student purchases a bagel at an Ithaca College on-campus cafe, that bagel costs $1.49. However, a bagel only costs 79 cents at the local Wegmans and 80 cents at the Ithaca Coffee Company.

A comparative analysis of the prices at the cafe at the Roy H. Park School of Communications, the Center for Health Sciences Coffee Cart and the cafe in the Business School on campus to off campus-competitors reveals that the prices at on-campus retail locations are generally higher than comparable locations in town.

Along with the more expensive bagels, retail carts on campus charge $1.99 for a cookie, while similarly sized cookies cost $1.95 at Starbucks and $1.50 at the Ithaca Coffee Company.

Fruit is also significantly more expensive at the campus retail carts than at options in town. The Park School cafe charges 99 cents for a banana, while at Wegmans, bananas are 49 cents per pound. A bunch of six bananas is about 2.4 pounds, so six bananas would cost $1.17, resulting in a unit price of about 20 cents.

Jeff Scott, the area general manager for Sodexo, Ithaca College’s dining services provider, said the prices are based off the market average, and Sodexo aims to be competitive with local competitors.

“If you think the cost of coffee is too high, that’s your opinion,” he said. “We try to be comparable to what you would pay for a similar item off campus at a retail establishment.”

Scott said instead of comparing to a grocery store, pricing should be compared to a more similar location. For example, Collegetown Bagels also charges $1.00 for fresh fruit.

He said twice a year, Sodexo does a comprehensive pricing analysis, which compares its pricing to like competitors. For example, he said, the prices at SubConnection would be compared to prices at Subway.

“We assess all of our prices against the competition,” he said. “We try to compare with as like an establishment as possible. … We try to position ourselves on market average.”

The prices at SubConnection, however, are generally higher than the prices at Subway on The Commons. For example, a black forest ham sandwich at Subway costs $3.50 for a 6-inch sandwich and $5 for a foot-long sandwich, while at SubConnection a ham sandwich costs $4.29 for a 6-inch sandwich and $5.99 for a foot-long sandwich.

Both a 6-inch and 12-inch roast beef sandwich and a foot-long turkey sandwich are cheaper at SubConnection than Subway, while both sizes of the roasted chicken sandwich, both sizes of the veggie sandwich and the 6-inch turkey sandwich cost less at Subway.

Scott declined to release a copy of Sodexo’s competitive analysis information.

Comparison to selected off-campus competition also puts the prices of coffee and most bakery items at on-campus locations slightly above the prices at similar off-campus options.

The on-campus locations charge more for a 12-ounce cup of coffee than Waffle Frolic, Starbucks, the Crow’s Nest Cafe, Collegetown Bagels and the Ithaca Coffee Company. On-campus locations also charge above the average for the 16-ounce and 20-ounce cups of coffee.

Hot chocolate is another item that the on-campus locations charge more than their competition, with the exception of Starbucks. The Crow’s Nest Cafe, the Ithaca Coffee Company and Collegetown Bagels all charge $2.25 for 12 ounces and $2.75 for 16 ounces, while the locations at the college charge $2.69 for 12 ounces and $3.19 for 16 ounces. The locations at the college do charge less than Starbucks for hot chocolate, which charges $2.75 for 12 ounces and $3.25 for 16 ounces.

A double espresso at the Business School cafe costs $2.49, while the same product costs $1.75 at Collegetown Bagels, $2 at the Ithaca Coffee Company and $1.95 at Starbucks.

Croissants are one item that is cheaper at the Park School cafe than at off-campus options, as the Park Cafe charges $1.79, while Collegetown Bagels charges $1.90, Starbucks charges $2.25  and the Ithaca Coffee Company charges $3. Wegmans is the only store which charges less than the Park School cafe for croissants, charging $1.50.

Graduate student Jessica Walton shops at the CHS Coffee Cart and said she thinks the prices are too high.

“I think the prices are very expensive,” she said. “I use it as a last resort if I’m running late. It’s convenient but expensive.”

However, many students believed the higher prices were worth the convenience of the locations, including senior Eric Gottschalk.

“I think it comes with having the convenience aspect,” he said. “You’re paying for the convenience.”

Grad student Luis Naupari said he isn’t bothered by the higher prices at the Business School Cafe because he understands why they are high.

“It’s expensive because it’s convenient,” he said. “We’re paying to have it right near your classroom.”

Jennifer Hensley, a second-year grad student, said food and drink at the CHS Coffee Cart are overpriced, but she said she doesn’t think this would not affect buyership.

“They can charge whatever they want and people are still going to buy it,” she said.

The GW Hatchet, the school newspaper of George Washington University in Washington, D.C., reported that prices at Sodexo-controlled J Street were also more expensive than off-campus options. In the article “The hidden costs of campus dining,” by Chloe Sorvino, George Washington’s Head of Dining Services, Nancy Haaga, said Sodexo compares prices from about 12 “popular campus restaurants” once a year and charges students 5 to 10 percent less. The Hatchet, however, found that prices at J Street were higher than most other options.

Scott said Sodexo aims to provide customers with a fair price.

“We try to position ourselves where the market average is, where we think our customers will be reasonably comfortable with the pricing,” he said.

Aidan Quigley can be reached at aquigley@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @QuigleyAidan